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Chapter 5

As I walk back into the bar I hear an odd rhythmic sound.
*swish, swish, thump thump thump* *thump, thump, swish*

I peer into the far dark corner. It's Jean-Pierre. Apparently incapable of sweeping in the boring everyday way, he's dancing with his broom to some music only he can hear. Heh. I get the feeling he might be a very likable man, when he's not on his crazy train.

I'd like a drink, but it'd be rude to not offer Jean-Pierre one. I'd rather not put any more glassware in his hands tonight. If he's sticking around maybe I'll place an order for some plastic cups. I head to the kitchen. There is some bottled water back there for musicians on the wagon. I grab two nice safe plastic bottles and return to the bar.

Jean-Pierre has swept and danced his way around to the opposite corner. I settle down at our table. Looks like he also took the time to clean off the blood.

A few minutes ago I had called up memories of my friend Duncan MacLeod. Now I invoke memories of my friend James Horton. For two years I've tried to keep these memories out. Inviting them back … it feels odd, like the way your arm prickles when the circulation's restored after it's fallen asleep on you.

James: lying on his bed listening to me play, arguing in a late night bull session, falling down laughing in an alley, kissing Catherine's hand, crying on my couch when he got back from Cambodia, reading a bedtime story to Lynn, toasting Connor MacLeod for taking out the Kurgan. James was a good man, once. That's where the story has to start. It'll take us into the dark soon enough.

I call Jean-Pierre back to the table. He pulls up a chair and sits perched on the edge. I read the quivering tension he was trying to lose in that dance. This is important to him. And that puts me in a position to negotiate. My heart races a little at the thought, but I can do this.

"Jean-Pierre, I'm willing to tell you about James Horton. But there are two conditions. First, I want your word that you won't tell anyone, Mortal or Immortal, about the Watchers or what I'm about to tell you, without my permission."

He nods, and then hesitates. "What about after you are dead?"

Is that a threat? No, just a sensible clarifying question from a man who might still be holding onto my secrets centuries after I'm dust. So, who gets the legacy? No question, really.

"Once I'm gone, tell MacLeod. He gets to decide if anyone else should know." Mac's terrible at keeping secrets, but this feels like the right thing to do. There's an odd satisfaction in knowing that if I never get to have this conversation with MacLeod, he still might hear it from Jean-Pierre, someday.

Jean-Pierre is watching me carefully. He raises his right hand and makes the symbol of the cross on his forehead. "I swear it, by God, the Spirits, and the Dead."

Whoa. Never seen anything like that before, but it sure looks binding. Swearing by God used to mean that breaking the oath would endanger your immortal soul. Jean-Pierre probably still believes that. He's taking this very seriously. More seriously than I took my Oath, anyway.

"Good. Here's the second condition: I want the rest of your story, including Rwanda." This condition isn't for me, and it isn't for the Watchers. This one is for Jean-Pierre. Secrets and guilt are a poisonous combination. I should know. If Jean-Pierre's going to survive long enough to be my messenger to MacLeod, he needs to get it off his chest.

Jean-Pierre's throat works for a moment. "I will tell you, Joe, but not here, not tonight." There's an edge of panic in his voice. "For that I will need … sunlight. Sunlight and the sound of the sea."

He reaches out blindly for the water bottle, unscrews the cap, and takes a gulp. "Do you have a car, Joe? Can you drive?"

I keep my voice low and soothing, like talking to a scared dog that might bite. "Sure, I have a car. I can drive."

"Good. Then when you decide it is time, I will drive with you to the sea. There I will tell you everything you ask. Is it enough?"

I find myself echoing his formal language. "It is enough. I'll tell you the story of James Horton. But for it to make sense, you're going to need to know a little more about me."

Jean-Pierre looks relieved. He smiles at me and says, "Of course. Storytellers and their stories are always entwined."

"I was fighting in Vietnam in 1968 when I stepped on a land mine. An Immortal saved my life. He carried me 16 miles on his back, out of unfriendly territory to the firebase."

Jean-Pierre interrupts, "Was it Duncan MacLeod?"

Now wouldn't that have been nice. "No, it was my sergeant, Andrew Cord." Jean-Pierre must recognize the name from what MacLeod told him. He looks like a little light bulb just went on over his head.

"The doctors had to take both my legs to save me." I rap my cane against each of my prosthetic knees, just in case he missed it.

Jean-Pierre cocks his head to listen to the dull plastic thuds.

"I was pretty messed up about it. But I wanted to thank the Sergeant, for pulling me out of there. They told me that Cord was dead. Now I had seen Sergeant Cord die a few minutes before I was hit, but I also knew he had saved me. I insisted he was alive. I wouldn't shut up about it."

"Why not?" This is gonna be like story-time with a little kid. I guess story telling is a two-person job, for Jean-Pierre. At least it lets me know he's paying attention.

"I don't know. I'd always been a very active person – a football player. I couldn't imagine life without my legs. That leaves a pretty big hole, when you can't imagine your own future. So … I guess I just needed something else to make a fuss about."

Can I use Ian's name here? Yeah, he's dead. It can't hurt. But no living Watchers' names, I promise myself. "That's when Ian came to see me in the hospital. Ian told me that he knew that Cord was alive, because Cord was Immortal. He showed me his tattoo, told me about the Watchers, and invited me to join."

"Were you sure joining the Watchers was the right thing to do?"

"Oh yeah. I couldn't go home the way I was. Couldn't get a factory job with no legs, and somehow I doubted that my football scholarship would be renewed when I got back. Immortals, the Watchers … it was like some kind of crazy dream, but I wanted it. I had a future again."

"I spent most of a year in a military hospital in Hawaii – physical therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling. I could have been out of there in a couple of months if I was willing to settle for a wheelchair, but I wasn't. I pushed myself hard in PT, harder than I was supposed to. The Marines might think I was unfit for duty, but I was going to be a Watcher. I was gung-ho and ready to go by the time I reported to Watcher Academy."

I'm interrupted by Jean-Pierre's water bottle rolling across the table and smacking into my hand. Good thing I decided on the plastic bottles, if we're gonna play catch with the damn things. "What?" I sound a little cranky.

Jean-Pierre leans across the table and shows his teeth in a little smile. "Joe, in my experience there are three types of lies: lies to disguise the truth, lies to reveal the truth, and lies to change the truth. Which one are you telling me, and why?" His tone of voice is pleasant, but I can't help but read the movement as a threat.

What lie? I replay my words in my mind. I was just talking about getting out of rehab. Oh. Okay, so maybe I wasn't in that great shape when I got out. Jesus, the guy's a freaking lie detector. I'll need to be very, very careful when I get to parts of this story that an Immortal has no business knowing. "I just try not to focus on the bad parts, Jean-Pierre. But, fine, if you really want to hear about it …" I roll the water bottle back to him.

He snags it right on the edge of the table and relaxes back into his chair, balancing the bottle on his knee. "I do. The bad parts and the good. Anything that you feel strongly about, that's what I need to hear. It's the only way for me to know the man James Horton truly was."

Anything I feel strongly about? Okay, I can do that. I rearrange the story in my mind, changing it from a Chronicle-like reporting of events to more like my private journals, focusing on the things that mattered most to me.

"My last month at the hospital was pretty rough. I was trying to wean myself off the pain pills; they made me too groggy. So I was anxious, moody, and I couldn't sleep a wink. Ian sent along some State Department books and cassette tapes to help me learn French, so I'd be ready for the Academy classes. I spent the nights practicing fingering on the guitar and whispering to myself in French, real quiet. The other 12 guys on the ward needed their sleep. I caught some naps during the day."

"When I left the hospital I had one piece of luggage for the plane. I'd shipped my guitar and a box of clothes ahead to the Academy in France. I had this strange disconnected feeling. As a boy, I'd been defined by my role in my family. At 18 I joined the Marine Corps. I was on my way to become a Watcher, but I wasn't one of them yet. There was no one in charge of me, no responsibilities. I felt if I stepped off my carefully planned itinerary I might just float away, end up wandering the world."

Jean-Pierre laughs with delight. "Joe! That's my Immortal life you've just described!"

I shudder. It had been terrifying, feeling that rootless. Why would Jean-Pierre choose that kind of life?

"When I arrived at the Watcher Academy I found that Ian had paired me up with James Horton for a roommate. He was some kind of 4th generation Watcher from England. Ian thought we'd be good for each other."

"What did you think of him?"

"At first glance I wasn't too impressed. The south-side Chicago boy in me said he was a trust-fund kid. That was true. The Vietnam vet in me said he was green as grass. That was also true. But the guy who'd just spent the afternoon being told that my French accent was atrocious and that everyone should know the proper term for beheading ... Well, that guy needed a friend. And James Horton turne d out to be a good one." I pause to sip at my water and smile at that first memory of James.

"What was he like then?"

"James was smart as a whip. He could be charismatic, but he didn't suffer fools gladly. The man had a sense of humor that could etch glass. Made more enemies than friends at the Academy, that's for sure. He was close to my age, but didn't know much about the real world. The thing that brought us together, more than anything else, was that we were both driven. James was just like that naturally. Everything he did, he had to be the best. As for me, I had something to prove to everyone, and especially to myself." It was nearly an obsession. All of my self-respect had somehow become dependent on my success at the Watcher Academy.

"So what is your most important memory of James Horton from that time?"

I flip through my memories like a pack of cards. Plenty of well-worn happy ones in here, but I pull out the one that burns coldest. "It was after-dinner, Sunday of the third week of orientation. All of the evaluations and introductions were over.
Tomorrow the real Watcher classes would start. Someone had slid an envelope under my door. I picked it up and took it over to my desk to read."

In my memory I can see the flecks of dust in the bright sunshine streaming down onto my desk; that precisely typed and impersonal letter blurring before my eyes. "Turns out that I was formally excused from all Field Craft coursework. For this quarter, that would include Surveillance, Forensics, and Pistol Fundamentals. In its place I was being offered a special tutorial on modern and ancient French languages."

I remember sitting at that desk, feeling like I'd been gutted with a frozen bayonet. Feeling like a hole had opened up beneath me and I was falling with nothing to catch me. Twenty-five years, and this memory still hurts. "All I'd done, and they were just going to stick me behind a desk. Unfit for active duty. Unfit. I must have sat there for over an hour like that. It was dark by the time James came bounding in."

"When I handed him the letter he started swearing and pacing, then turned to me insisting he had a plan. I told him that fragging the Head of the Academy wouldn't get me a place in the Field Craft classes. James's plan was simple – ignore the letter. Show up to classes everyday as planned." I can hear James' voice in my head, `You think they'll make a scene Joseph? Trust me, they will never, ever make a scene.' The passionate scorn in his voice pulled me out of crushed defeat and into rebellious planning.

Jean-Pierre whispers, "Did it work?"

"Hell yeah it worked! They sent another letter. I sent back a confused response. They sent a clarifying letter. I responded with a request that they clear up a point of Academy protocol related to their letter. It gave me enough time to prove I could get the job done. And that turned out to be the next problem."

"The Field Craft classes were difficult for you?"

"The Pistol class was a joke for a Marine qualified marksman. Forensics was a fun challenge. But Surveillance was a bitch. It should have been easy. You don't survive on point in the bush without developing certain skills and awareness. But that was back when I had two good legs. As it was, I couldn't move fast. On some terrain I couldn't move quietly. On others I could barely move at all. Some of the normal surveillance strategies just didn't work for me. I wasn't going to be climbing any trees with a telephoto camera."

Vemas. He's dead now, too. I'm a little young to be out-living everybody, but I guess Watching Immortals is a dangerous occupation these days. Well, Jean-Pierre asked for anything I felt strongly about. And nobody could piss me off like Vemas.

"Vemas pointed out the problem with climbing trees, first week of class. Asshole. I admit I had a chip on my shoulder back then, but he pushed every button I had. Vemas was always making little remarks in flawless Parisian French, sighing at how long it took me to get up the stairs, rolling his eyes when I asked questions. The day James posted Vemas's daily pistol silhouettes next to mine in the dorm, it broke out into open warfare. The jerk-off was a pretty good shot, but he wasn't in my league. My groupings that day were tight even by my standards." I remember James' sly little grin when I asked him how he got his hands on those silhouettes.

"Vemas came into the Forensics Lab that night when I was getting in a little extra lab time, accused me of trying to humiliate him. I told him he was doing a fine job of humiliating himself on the range, didn't need my help at it. Turned into quite the shouting match, then he yelled I would be a liability in the field, get men killed. So I swung at him. Might not have been the smartest thing, but it sure did feel good until his right-hook dumped me on my ass."

Jean-Pierre breaks in. "Joe, why start a fight you knew you couldn't win?"

Mac wouldn't need me to explain this to him. "Jean-Pierre, you don't have to win a fight against a bully, but you need to make him feel it the next day." The Chicago boy in me whispered that if a cripple showed any sign of weakness, they'd be on me like a pack of wolves.

Jean-Pierre shrugs, like he's too polite to disagree.

"So when Vemas came over to check on me I smacked him in the back of the knees with my cane and knocked him over. His boxing skills didn't help much on the ground, and I had plenty of upper-body strength. Wasn't going too bad until we rolled into an equipment rack packed with state-of-the-art electronics. The Academy took a cut out of both our paychecks for years to cover the damage. Vemas hated my guts after that, but he didn't mess with me much anymore."

I was surprised when Mac told me that Kalas had killed Vemas. He always reminded me of those soldiers in Vietnam that were just too mean to die.

Jean-Pierre stretches his hand into my field of vision to get my attention. "So what did you do about the Surveillance class, Joe? Did James Horton help?"

"I needed to work out my own Surveillance strategies. For that I needed a subject, and lots of practice time. So James got drafted to play the Big Bad Immortal. For months we spent three nights a week and 4 hours of daylight on Sunday running through our own surveillance scenarios. I shadowed him through malls, airports, alleys, galleries, warehouses, sewers, forests, meadows, swamps and beaches. God, I hated the beaches." Unstable footing, sand getting into the prosthetic joints and abrading my stumps; beaches are hell.

"If you would prefer to avoid the ocean, Joe, we don't need to visit it together." Jean-Pierre looks concerned.

"Nah, just don't make me try to trail you unobserved at speed through deep sand, and we'll be fine." Most of the beaches around here aren't too sandy, anyway. I do all right on dunes with beach grass. I'll be driving, so I can find a decent place.

"One night James caught me dead-to-rights in the middle of an alleyway. Damn dangerous spot to get caught by an Immortal, and he was playing the threat up. He stalked up to me, asked me what the hell I was doing here. So I told him I lived in this alley, stuck out my hat and asked if he could spare a few francs. He broke character, started laughing so hard he fell over and was rolling around in that nasty alleyway."

It's a good memory, and it was a good lesson for me. Unless you are following your Immortal into someplace up-scale, for urban surveillance it's best to dress just on the neat side of down-and-out. Gives you a perfect excuse for loitering, and most folks, Mortal or Immortal, would rather ignore the homeless than look close. The occasional pitying do-gooder that wanted to help a homeless vet pissed me off, but it was worth it to get the job done.

"Joe, if Horton was so driven, so ambitious, why did he spend so much time on these surveillance scenarios with you?"

"Well, it helped him perfect his skills, too. But James mainly did it because he knew how important it was to me. I had to be better than the others, to earn a field assignment. So he helped me, because he was my friend."

"So you grew close over these months?"

"We did. When I visited my family at Christmas, I brought James with me."

"He did not have family of his own to visit?"

"No. James's father was Watching some mobile Immortal in South America. His mother had divorced his father years before. I never got the impression they were close. So he didn't have any family obligations."

"And you felt you needed him there, when you saw your family?"

I nod. "It was the first time I'd seen them, since I lost my legs." I remember the tears in my mother's eyes, my father's silences, and my little cousin's questions. Having a guest there kept everyone polite.

"James really turned on the charm, kept everyone chatting and laughing. And he was a pro when it came to convincing lies about the Watchers. He made it seem perfectly reasonable that some rich and mysterious international company recruited a double amputee vet straight out of rehab for specialized training. I guess James' father had managed to convince his own family of some whoppers in his time."

"My sister fell for James, with his English accent and fancy manners. He kissed her hand when they first met. That was all it took to sweep a south-side Chicago girl off her feet."

Jean-Pierre smiles fondly at the image. "So it was love at first sight?"

"No, I wouldn't say that. James was never a romantic." Not like me. Falling for Laura when I knew she was married was one thing. Getting her pregnant - not my finest hour. Better focus back on James, before Jean-Pierre starts asking about my love life.

"He liked Catherine, and he was attracted to her. But I think all James ever needed from his wife was that she be a good mother to his children. That was what it was like for his parents. For James, his work always came first."

Jean-Pierre purses his lips. "Was this also what Catherine wanted?"

"I warned her about how focused James was on his job. She liked the idea of a rich corporate husband, especially when she found out that it would mean living in Europe. They got married that summer."

When I glance up at Jean-Pierre I can see him hesitating with a question on the tip of his tongue. "Spit it out, Jean-Pierre."

"Do you think James Horton married Catherine because she was your sister?"

"What? No. I mean, he made a big deal about the two of us being family after he married Catherine, but he wouldn't have married her if that was the only reason." Would he? They never were that close. I'm not even sure about that anymore.

Jean-Pierre nods, as if that's the answer he was expecting. "So what happened next, between the two of you?"

"Not much. After we graduated from the Academy I got stuck in a research post for a while. James was finishing up his doctorate. We kept in touch, but didn't spend much time together. Eventually we both got field postings." Even with top scores in surveillance, my constant requests, and Ian's support, they still didn't want to give me a field internship. I still wonder how much James's back room politicking had to do with my assignment to Watch Roy Ferrer.

"In 1975 James volunteered for Watcher field duty in Cambodia. James asked me to look after Catherine and their daughter Lynn for him. I requested re-assignment to Watch another Immortal, so I could be close to them. I'd proven myself in the field by now, so it wasn't any problem."

"Why did James want to go to Cambodia?"

"Field duty in war zones is a quick way to move up the ranks among the Watchers, same as in the military. James called it an opportunity, thought it would be some kind of great adventure. He had no idea what war was really like."

"So what happened?"

"He wrote a couple of letters in the first month, then nothing for 6 months. James just showed up on my doorstep one night. He told me he'd requested re-assignment, and some leave. James didn't want Catherine and Lynn to know he was back in the USA. He crashed on my couch for a couple of weeks."

It strikes me suddenly that Jean-Pierre is crashing on Mac's couch after escaping a war zone, just like James did. Maybe there really is some connection here.

"Joe, why did he come to you?"

"When we were room-mates at the Academy, I would have nightmares sometimes. They'd wake us both up." I look up at Jean-Pierre. "I still get them. One of the little enlistment perks military recruiters don't mention." He nods slowly, swallowing. Oh yeah, Jean-Pierre knows exactly what I'm talking about.

"One night James asked me if I was dreaming about real events, things that had happened to me in Vietnam. I told him I was, and he asked me if I wanted to talk about it. When I said I didn't, he never asked again. But I guess when he saw more than he could handle in Cambodia, he figured I had some kind of answers for him."

When I look up, Jean-Pierre's expression is haunted, mixed with a desperate hope. I recognize that look. I'd seen it on James's face. I welcome the sudden heat of anger over the cold, empty memory of failing a friend. "Damn it, Jean-Pierre! No, I couldn't make it all better for James, and I can't for you either!" If I could, maybe none of this would have happened.

Jean-Pierre sits back, face wiped clean of expression. "So what did you talk about while he crashed on your couch for those weeks?"

"James talked about what he'd seen. At that point, early in the Khmer Rouge take-over, I guess it wasn't too different from other wars. People hungry, sick, injured in artillery barrages. No medical supplies or personnel. Refugees all over. The military ignoring the locals at best, raping, looting, and killing at worst. Officials who did nothing to discourage even the worst abuses of power."

Jean-Pierre nods. "I've seen that, too many times. What did James do?"

"James pretty much did nothing. Watchers aren't supposed to interfere. He was playing by the book, hoping for a promotion. The last straw for him was when a group of refugees was hiding out in a warehouse. James knew that the Immortal he was Watching stored drugs in that warehouse. He was tempted to warn them, but he knew he wasn't supposed to draw attention to himself. So he left them there. The next day the Immortal returned with his mercs, found the villagers, and shot them all. James requested a transfer the same day."

Jean-Pierre pops up out of his chair and takes off for the john, muttering something about too much beer. It's a pretty flimsy excuse. I'm guessing those villagers getting shot hit a little close to home. I wait for him to get back.

A couple of years ago I wrote a proposal for an additional class to be taught at the Watcher Academy, on the Ethics of Non-Interference. They didn't go for the idea, but I still think we need something like it. I mean, the Rule is that we do not interfere. We swear an Oath on it. But how far does that go? Can we call the cops if our Immortal mugs someone? How about calling 911 after they've left the area? Stopping a little kid from interrupting a Challenge? Why, or why not?

The Oath doesn't cover every situation. Even if it did, "because that's how we've always done things" is a pretty cold comfort when you face ghosts in the night. It got to James back in 1975. It's gotten to me on occasion. Hell, even the Roman Catholic Church lets people discuss Church Doctrine, if only to discourage heresy and reduce the risk of schism. And schism might be what's happening to the Watchers.

We've got old-school Watchers like Ian, who don't interfere or interact with Immortals in any way. We've got Hunters like James, who want them dead. And then there's me, and maybe a few others like me, who think that sometimes getting involved is the only decent choice left.

The Watchers didn't want an ethics class at the Academy. Maybe they'll take the other approach the Catholic Church has used in dealing with heresy. Burn the heretics. Now there's a pleasant thought.

Jean-Pierre returns to the table looking a lot calmer than when he left. A few drops of water in his hair catch the light as he sits down. Splashing cold water on his face, maybe? I let him get settled, take a few sips of my water, and then continue.

"Anyway, James spent a couple of weeks talking to me. I told him some of what I'd seen, what I'd done, and how I felt about it. He seemed ... okay with things by the end. James went back to Catherine and Lynn. The Watchers seemed pretty impressed with his recovery. He was given an important administrative post. In 1979, I was assigned to Watch Duncan MacLeod."

Jean-Pierre asks, "You've been Watching Duncan ever since?"

"Sixteen years and counting. It's been a privilege. But we've only been speaking to each other for last two years. Now, James, on the other hand … when he returned to the field, he volunteered to Watch the Kurgan."

I'm interrupted by Jean-Pierre's sharp intake of breath. "I take it you've heard of the Kurgan?"

"Joe, we've all heard of the Kurgan. Even Immortals need a boogey-man to tell stories about around the camp fire."

The image of a bunch of Immortals trying to scare each other with Kurgan stories makes me chuckle, but it sounds hollow. "Yeah, well, he treated Mortals just as badly as he did Immortals. We hadn't been able to keep a Watcher on him for over a century. Too dangerous. But James always loved a challenge. And he really was very good at surveillance. James managed to stay on the Kurgan for four years."

Jean-Pierre looks queasy. "Four years following that one? Watching what he did to Mortals and Immortals?"

"Yeah. The Kurgan would move into an area, either a small town or a really poor neighborhood in a big city. Then he'd terrorize the people. Take anything he wanted – food, cars, money, women. Kill anyone who protested. Eventually, when he'd broken the locals completely, he'd get bored and move on. James documented the whole thing five times in the years he Watched the Kurgan."

"The leaders of your Watchers, they did not try to stop him?"

"Stop the Kurgan? No, the Watchers have strict rules against interfering with Immortals. Or do you mean stop James?"

"They didn't try to make him stop Watching, or take a break?"

"No. I think we all admired him, for having the balls to try Watching the Kurgan, and the guts to stick with it. The Kurgan wasn't the nastiest Immortal we Watched, just one of the more dangerous ones." Evan Caspari is the textbook example. Cannibalistic Immortal serial killers tend to burn out their Watchers pretty fast. Before he was committed to that mental institution, we rotated field agents on Caspari every three months.

"We sure did throw quite a party when Connor MacLeod took the Kurgan out, though."

Jean-Pierre takes a sudden interest. "So does it matter to you Watchers, which Immortals live or die? Do you care?"

That's a hard question to answer. The fact is that a lot of Watchers see the Game as some type of grand sporting event. They place bets on which Immortals will Challenge each other and who will win. They even set up handicaps. MacLeod's has gotten pretty steep lately. It's mostly the researchers; the ones who never get to meet an Immortal in the flesh see it that way. I don't allow that sort of thing here. But betting on the Game is a popular pastime in Paris. And I don't really want to share any of this with Jean-Pierre. Not that I'll lie. I'll just choose which pieces of the truth to tell him.

"I care. Field agents who are assigned to Watch Immortals who live decent lives get to care about them. I was praying for MacLeod for years before we ever spoke to each other. When Fitzcairn died in Paris last year, a group of Watchers threw a wake in his memory. And when Darius was killed; a lot of us mourned him." Aww hell, not the right name to bring up right now.

Jean-Pierre grimaces. "Not all of you, clearly. So, are we ready to speak of Darius yet?"

"No. No, not quite yet." I take a pull from my water bottle, and then plow on. "The Watchers pulled James in for a psych evaluation and then sent him home for a few months leave." Catherine and Lynn hadn't seen James in years. He got to be there for Lynn's 13th birthday. I still remember that party. Much too little-girlie for Lynn, but she didn't care. She was just glad to spend time with her Dad.

"How did he seem to you? Was he much changed?"

"He was quieter. He'd lost his innocence in Cambodia, but Watching the Kurgan had taken him deeper into the darkness. James just wanted to spend time with his family. I tried telling him some funny stories about MacLeod, but James didn't want to talk about Immortals at all, which was strange, for him. Normally you had to force the guy to take a break. After his leave was up, the Watchers assigned James another Immortal, Blake Wilmington."

"What was this one like?"

"Wilmington had been an enforcer for the Mob before he died. He was a robber, but not a very good one. A lot of his plans tended to go south. He'd revive after all the bullets were done flying, but the guards, cops, and bystanders wouldn't."

"That seems a strange assignment for a man of Horton's proven skill."

"Wilmington wasn't smart, but he was convinced the FBI was tracking him. Made it tough to keep up proper surveillance. And he wasn't supposed to be too dangerous."

"I see. So, this assignment was a break for James, after Watching the Kurgan?"

"That was the idea, I think. It didn't turn out too well. Have you ever heard of the Amusement Park Massacre?" Jean-Pierre shakes his head. "The FBI finally tracked Wilmington down in 1988. He thought he could shake them by holding a whole amusement park hostage. As usual, it blew up in his face. There were over 100 casualties, mostly children."

Jean-Pierre winces. "How did James react?"

"I don't know. It's not in his records. We pulled him in and sent him to Geneva for a full psychiatric evaluation. I guess he passed it, because they sent him right back to Watching Blake Wilmington."

Even now, I find this kind of hard to believe. Did Horton just manage to hide the fact he was losing it from everyone? How the hell could the psychiatrist expect James to Watch an Immortal massacre little kids and not go around the bend after what he'd already been through?

"After Lynn graduated from high school and moved out, Catherine filed for a divorce. She said that, even when James was home, it was like he wasn't there anymore. Wilmington disappeared a few months later. I don't have any proof, but I think he was the first Immortal James killed."

Jean-Pierre stands up and paces around to my side of the table. "I think I understand. First the killing of refugees in Cambodia, then the Kurgan's depredations, and finally the amusement park massacre. Each time James Horton did nothing to stop the evil he Watched. I can understand why he decided to kill Immortals who would commit such acts."

He squats down next to me, touching my shoulder. "But Darius had not harmed anyone, Mortal or Immortal, in over a thousand years! Why him?"

"Jean-Pierre, Darius wasn't the second Immortal he killed. James had been promoted into a position of responsibility. He was my supervisor. I thought … I thought maybe he felt awkward about it, and that was why he wasn't speaking to me. But he was using his authority to recruit other Watchers. He was using his access to information to find loose Immortals who were un-Watched, or barely Watched. And he and his recruits were killing them." We still don't know how many. That's the irony. James probably could have gotten away with what he was doing for another decade.

Jean-Pierre stands up. I have to tilt my head back to keep an eye on him. His voice is cold. "Did he ever try to recruit you?"

"No. No, he never did." That kind of surprises me. Still, James probably knew me well enough to know I would never go for it.

"But there were other Watchers involved?"

Got to be careful here. "Yes. We think we found them all, Jean-Pierre. We've taken care of it." I hope we found them all. But I still don't know what happened to them.

Jean-Pierre stalks back to his chair, turns it around so the slats are facing me, and sits with his arms braced on the chair back. "Very well, Joseph. Tell me. Why did James Horton kill Darius?"

"His excuse was that Darius had one of our Chronicles in his possession. But I don't think that was the real reason. James thought all Immortals were Abominations. He was afraid whoever won the Prize would use it to dominate humanity. James didn't just want to kill evil Immortals. He wanted to kill all Immortals. And so, being who he was, James couldn't stick with the small fish; not when there was Big Game available."

Jean-Pierre has a white-knuckle grip on the chair-back. "Are you saying that James Horton killed Darius because he was … famous?"

"Yeah, pretty much. Darius was the most well-known and beloved Immortal in our Chronicles. He was our `great hope'."

Jean-Pierre stares at me for a moment, then launches out of his chair towards the back wall of the bar. He reaches it, turns, and powers back towards me. I tense up, but Jean-Pierre doesn't even glance my way. As he swings past the table I can hear him muttering under his breath in some language I don't speak – Arabic maybe? It isn't until he gets to the front of the bar and spins around for another lap that I recognize his behavior. Jean-Pierre is pacing and swearing. Now that's a comfortingly normal reaction. God forbid I ever get stuck in a room with him and Mac during a crisis. They'd bounce off each other like pool balls.

It gives me some time to think. Everyone who knew Darius loved him, Mortals and Immortals alike. Killing him was stupid. It drew Immortal attention to the Watchers, and Watcher attention to the Hunters. The problem is, James was never stupid. He was very, very smart, and he always had a plan. So, what am I missing that would make killing Darius a smart move?

Let's assume that Mac didn't survive, or didn't find James, or that I didn't believe him when he told me Watchers were hunting Immortals. What could have happened? Was James planning some kind of coup in the Watchers? He would have needed powerful inside help to pull it off. There's no proof that he had any. In fact, I would think I'm just getting paranoid in my old age, except for one thing: Ian Bancroft.

Ian wasn't only Darius's Watcher. He was also the Coordinator for Western Europe. From what he told me, Ian knew that Mortals took Darius's head. He had launched an investigation, when he was suddenly demoted and sent to Hong Kong to Watch May-Ling and get counseling. They moved him away from his own power-base.

James didn't have that kind of influence. I'm not sure who did, but I know whatever shake-ups happened last year didn't reach that high up. Office politics have never been my cup of tea. But if it's turning into a blood sport, I need to get involved. What if all of the men James recruited weren't shot? What if they were all just quietly moved to another station, to continue their 'good work'?

I'll give Adam Pierson a call. The brilliant, quirky young researcher Don introduced me to years ago should be able to sniff around and find out if anything's up. The fact that Adam also happens to be a 5,000-year-old Immortal just gives him a bit more incentive to find out if there are Hunters trying to control the Watchers.

Jean-Pierre plops back into his chair. He still looks pissed, but I don't think it's me he's mad at. "Very well. Tell me how it ended, then. How did Duncan find James Horton?"

"Darius had left some clues. They didn't lead MacLeod to James. They led him to me. Mac walked into the bookstore I was running at the time, asking my opinion on the Chronicle Darius had found."

"How did you react?"

"My assistant Robert was scared stiff, but I was excited to have a chance to speak to him, after all those years. As far as I knew, Darius had been taken out by another Immortal. MacLeod tried to tell me that my people had killed Darius, but I was sure he was wrong about that. I told him about the Watchers, and managed to convince him that I wasn't involved, anyway."

"Did you feel that you were in danger from Duncan?"

"Not really, no. MacLeod had always been very careful of Mortal lives. He wouldn't hurt me unless he was sure I was an enemy. I knew that I wasn't. And I trusted him to figure that out."

"So how did Duncan finally meet James Horton?"

"James was throwing a party that evening, to celebrate Lynn's graduation from college. I reported my talk with MacLeod to James; he was my supervisor. James told me that MacLeod had killed one of our guys. I couldn't believe it. It didn't fit with what I knew about MacLeod, or the way he reacted when I spoke to him. That's when Mac walked in."

"He recognized James Horton?"

I take a sip of water. "Oh, yeah. It was obvious they knew each other. Even Lynn could see it. And that shouldn't have been possible. I had this strange double vision. James was pale and determined, ready to fight for his life. Duncan MacLeod, a man I had Watched and admired for 15 years, had this look of leashed anger and satisfaction. I recognized it. MacLeod only gets that look when he's Challenging a real evil bastard, the kind the world would be better off without. I could understand each man separately. But put them together – the picture didn't make any sense."

"There I was, in the middle of my niece's graduation party, and my best friend and my Immortal were at each other's throats. If Lynn hadn't stopped them, we'd be scooping bits of James out of the punch bowl. And I just stood there like an idiot, no idea what to do. Watchers weren't allowed to interfere in Challenges, but this wasn't a Challenge, it was … I didn't know what it was." I run a hand through my hair. "They just traded insinuations. I had no facts. Who was I supposed to believe?"

"So what happened?"

"That night … I mentioned my assistant Robert earlier? He was a young historian, fresh out of the Watcher Academy. Robert was a good kid. He and Lynn had fallen in love. They were engaged. Robert was murdered that night. James told me Duncan MacLeod had killed him."

"MacLeod came to see me the next morning. I thought he'd come for me too. Mac said he hadn't killed anyone, that I had to be blind not to see what was going on." I can still hear his voice mocking, `the softball coach is running a death squad on the side.' The breath explodes out of me in a sigh. "One of them had to be lying. And I finally knew who it was."

I stop to rub my temples. There's a blinding headache in there just waiting come out and play. I'm glad most of the lights are off.

"Joe?" Jean-Pierre looks worried. I try to fish up a smile to reassure him, but I doubt it's all that convincing. "Who killed Robert?"

"James. He was recruiting Robert to join his Hunters. Robert … wavered."

Jean-Pierre stiffens. "He killed one of his own men? A Watcher, and his daughter's beloved?"

"Yeah. James was always determined. If he decided something needed to be done, he never blinked. He just took care of it. I'd always admired that about him. I'm not sure when that moral courage turned into the kind of callousness that would let James murder a kid who looked up to him. I never saw it happen."

"How did you feel when you realized what James had done?"

"Angry. Betrayed! He had killed Darius, killed Robert, and tried to kill MacLeod, who was the best man I knew. It was totally wrong! And this wasn't some stranger. This was James, my friend, my family. I felt personally responsible."

"What did you do next then? Or was it Duncan?"

"Both of us. MacLeod called Horton, arranged to meet him down at the docks. I knew it would be an ambush, so I went down there to confront James myself. He was proud of what he'd done! When MacLeod showed up, James tried to hold me hostage. He threatened to shoot me unless Mac traded his life for mine."

"Do you think he would have done it?"

"I didn't believe it at the time. My head knew he was a killer, but my heart hadn't quite caught up yet." I'd fallen through the looking glass. My friend was an enemy. My family was killing each other. It takes time to believe something like that.

"Lynn came in, heard James talking about how Robert had been `collateral damage.' James tried to get her to leave. While he was distracted, MacLeod made his move. He forced that gun right up under James' chin. I thought I was going to have his brains splattered all over me. Lynn begged for his life. So did I. James was crazy, but he was my friend, and I thought we could save him. MacLeod spared him. He put the gun down on the table and walked away."

"James, he … the stupid son of a bitch picked up the gun and shot MacLeod in the back. Lynn grabbed for the gun. MacLeod was dying, but he still managed to draw his katana and skewer James with it. Three shots center-mass in Mac; two feet of steel in James' gut. They both collapsed to the floor." Like it was yesterday I remember the smell of blood on dusty concrete, and Lynn sobbing over the sound of the rain. I finish off my water and screw the cap on tightly. Very, very tightly.

"So. That's how it ended?"

I'm tempted to leave it there, but no. "It wasn't as easy as that. James's story isn't over yet. He was badly wounded. Lynn and I rushed him to the hospital. Somehow, he pulled through."

Jean-Pierre looks stunned. "What did Duncan do, when he found out James Horton was alive?"

This part isn't pretty. "He didn't do anything, because I told him James was dead. The Watchers even set up a fake funeral for his benefit. Empty casket, headstone, mourning party, the whole nine yards."

Jean-Pierre is giving me these sad puppy eyes. "Joe … why would you do that to Duncan?"

"Look, I admired the man, but it's not like MacLeod and I were friends back then. James was my friend, my brother-in-law. He had lost it, but I knew at least some of the reasons. I thought we could help James get his head back together, give him a chance to make amends for what he'd done."

"And did he?"

I can feel my face pulling into a scowl. "The doctors declared him cured after 2 months."

That's three times in this story the Watcher Department of Psychology and Counseling has screwed up big time. Twice they said James was fine, and once they declared Ian had lost it, just in time to deep-six his investigation. How the hell did I miss that? I think I'll ask Adam to pay special attention to that department when he's making inquiries.

"A few months later an Immortal teamed up with a group of Mortal gunmen to take out the competition. I didn't make the connection. Not until MacLeod told me that he had seen Horton with them. Even then, I lied. I told him James was dead. But I had to be sure James wasn't involved. I contacted him, asked him to meet me. MacLeod followed me to the meet."

"What did you find out from James?"

"I found out that my good old friend could lie to me with a straight-face for hours. When I got home, MacLeod was waiting. He thought I had been lying to him. He was wrong. I was lying to myself."

"He was angry?"

"Mac? Yeah. Yeah he was." That's not a conversation I like to remember. `The next time I see you, will be the last' is the closest to a death threat I've ever gotten, and it was from a man I considered a friend. Duncan MacLeod and James Horton were both men of passionate convictions, and they can be dangerous. I need to get some more mellow friends.

"I found where James and his pet Immortal were based, and told Mac. I betrayed James, and my Oath." I manage a hollow laugh. "And he must have known I would, because it was a trap. I almost got Charlie killed the first time right there. I gave up James, and ended up betraying MacLeod. How's that for symmetry?" My grin is all teeth and no joy.

"Perhaps it was his fate, to die entangled with your life and Duncan MacLeod's."

I'm too tired to be polite. "That's a load of crap, Jean-Pierre. Charlie died because Mac and I screwed up, not because it was his fate."

Jean-Pierre shrugs and looks away, unmoved.

I speed up, wanting to forget Charlie, wanting to get the next part over with. "MacLeod followed James to Paris. I followed them both. They had a big reunion. James, as always, had an escape plan. I pulled a gun on him. James just smiled, and said, "Joseph, we're family." I stop, and stare down at my hands lying there on the table.

"I shot him." I sound cold.

I feel cold.

Jean-Pierre reaches out to gently touch my wrist. "Joe, I'm sorry you had to kill him."

I laugh weakly. It's like some kind of sick joke. "I didn't kill him, Jean-Pierre. He showed up again 3 months later."

"James Horton returned from the dead again? How frightening that must have been for you." He seems completely serious.

"It looked that way, but he wasn't actually dead either time, Jean-Pierre. He must have been wearing a vest when I shot him." I should have gone for the headshot. I was close enough; it would have been an easy shot. But I didn't. Maybe part of me didn't want him dead. Or maybe I just couldn't shoot my old friend in the face.

Jean-Pierre doesn't look convinced. "Remember, Joe, there is an ocean of possibilities between life and death. For a hated enemy and a beloved friend to seek your death, and then believe that you are dead, is a type of death. James Horton must have been powerful to return from it twice."

If I think too hard about that I might get completely creeped out. Right, moving on. Men who rise from the dead don't embezzle, right?

"Well, the first sign of his miraculous return was large amounts of money disappearing from the Watcher accounts. James needed a small fortune for a bizarre plan involving Tessa Noel. Has MacLeod mentioned Tessa to you?"

He shakes his head. "No, I have not heard the name."

"You've probably seen her picture in the loft. A blond woman with a gorgeous smile? She was an artist. The metal sculptures Mac has up there are her work."

Jean-Pierre taps his forehead and nods. "Yes, I have seen them."

"MacLeod and Tessa were together for 13 years. He told her that he was Immortal, and actually proposed to her. They were so in love; it made me happy just to see them together. I used to talk to James about it a lot, especially when he and Catherine were going through hard times. Tessa died in '93, while James was in a Watcher mental institution. Mac took it pretty hard."

"James decided that MacLeod's love for Tessa, and the grief he felt at her loss, was a weakness. He broke a woman out of prison and had her altered to look like Tessa. Then he dragged her in front of Mac like fresh bait. Mac fell for it, hook, line, and sinker." Well, it looked that way at the time.

Jean-Pierre interrupts. "Did James Horton seem the same as before, or changed?"

"He was different. He tried to kill me, you know. Shot at me from a moving car. I'd be dead if Richie Ryan hadn't jumped in front and taken the bullets for me. James didn't even care enough to look me in the eye when he shot me."

"This plan was different, too. It was complicated and intentionally cruel. The information he was using to re-create Tessa wasn't in Mac's Chronicle. They were details I had told him myself, personal things. He didn't just want Mac dead, he wanted him to suffer."

"Obviously the plan failed."

"Yeah, Mac saw through it. But he still let it play out to the end, just in case he was wrong. I wouldn't have let her kill him, anyway. MacLeod had the woman pretend to shoot him, to draw James in. I lay down some covering fire, until James ran out of ammo. Then MacLeod chased him down, outside of the cemetery. James pulled a switchblade, and MacLeod killed him with it."

At least he got a chance to go out swinging. But I couldn't recognize my friend in the man that died that day. My cheeks are wet, and I'm really not sure when I started crying or why. The James Horton that died that day doesn't deserve my tears. Maybe I just needed to let myself get pissed off at the man James Horton turned into, before I could mourn the ambitious and idealistic Englishman who would do anything to help a friend.

"So, Duncan killed Horton once with a sword, you killed him a second time with a gun, and then Duncan killed him the final time with his own weapon? There's an old pattern to it. Fear and guilt turn to hate, then are overcome by friendship and love. It's a good story, Joe."

I have to snort, wiping my face on my arm. Next he'll be writing a Hallmark card about it. "Sure, Jean-Pierre, whatever works for you. Just don't pretty it up too much when you tell MacLeod. I want to him to hear the story the way I told it."

I'm wiped out, but I feel lighter, too. "I need to get to bed. Come on up to my place, I'll get you settled for the night."

Proceed to Chapters 6 & 7

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
holde_maid
Oct. 15th, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
"It's a good story, Joe."

Ouch. That must hurt. Interesting you have the character put it that way.


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